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Our Views: Preserving green space at courthouse a good call

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Rock County officials studying proposals for updating the courthouse appear to have figured out they cannot fix previous mistakes by making new ones.

A committee’s latest recommendation no longer calls for turning green space into a parking lot near the courthouse’s east entrance, calling instead for repairing a parking ramp already there. The committee’s decision to abandon plans for a new loading dock is also worth noting.

Credit goes to a group of neighbors, who support the new recommendation, for pushing officials to reconsider their initial, ill-advised plans.

Why anybody authorized expanding the courthouse during the 1990s without installing an adequate loading dock is a mystery. The price of that decision is semitrailer trucks cannot easily pull into the current loading dock on the west side, forcing them to park and unload on the street. Box trucks can better fit the space, though the dock’s height was designed for semi trucks.

The proposal to move the loading dock to the east entrance, requiring the parking ramp’s removal and construction of a new parking lot, was an attempt to solve some of the courthouse’s shortcomings. Understandably, these neighbors didn’t want to pay for the county’s past planning sins.

The Courthouse Hill neighborhood has enough challenges without the county taking away valuable green space. The area features many historic, beautiful homes, though some need significant repairs. Reducing green space in this neighborhood would have been both insensitive and shortsighted. As “Wisconsin’s Park Place,” all of Janesville deserved better than this plan.

As it stands, this neighborhood suffers daily from the dismal architecture that is the courthouse, especially its east side. A new parking lot would have piled on aesthetic insult. The county’s track record—how to say this diplomatically—is to do the opposite of what Frank Lloyd Wright would do.

It’s almost too easy to poke fun at the county’s lack of planning prowess. To be fair, the courthouse’s current layout gives county officials no perfect solution, only some choices better than others.

One challenge is that parking on the east side cannot accommodate all employees at peak times if officials want to reserve the west-side parking area for the public.

In abandoning plans for a new loading dock, employees will have to live with a less-than-ideal logistical setup for the foreseeable future. But the county has managed with this setup for years, and employees can likely tolerate it for several more.

Let the current loading dock serve as a reminder of the importance of getting designs right the first time. If the county someday decides to revisit the loading dock issue, officials need to work closely with residents to maintain the historic ambiance of the Courthouse Hill neighborhood.



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